May the two meet

Secularism and culture of faith in Europe

The huge crowds that congregated to greet Benedict XVI in Portugal and in particular at Fatima, and the affection that people expressed to the Pope, are the finest and most effective “response” to all those who are insinuating a growth of separation, or rift, between the Pope and the ecclesial community.Benedict XVI expressed his joy and his gratitude for this extraordinary witness of the Portuguese people, and as always did not fail to offer to everyone, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, his teachings on many themes. They also included the question of Europe, to which he dedicated some thoughts just when he was flying over part of the continent. We propose them as a comment in this number of SIR Europe.”The presence of secularism is not something entirely new. The dialectic between secularism and faith in Portugal has a long history. Already in the eighteenth century there was a strong presence of the Enlightenment in Portugal; it’s enough to think of the name Pombal [Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal, 1699 – 1782, exponent of the Enlightenment and minister of King Joseph I, who confiscated the properties of the Jesuits and had them expelled from the country and from the whole Portuguese empire]. In these centuries Portugal always lived in this dialectic, which it goes without saying has now been radicalized and reveals itself with all the signs of the European spirit today. And this seems to me both a challenge and a great opportunity. In these centuries of dialectic between Enlightenment, secularism and faith, there was never any shortage of people who wished to build bridges and create dialogue, but unfortunately the predominant tendency was that of antithesis and mutual exclusion. Today, however, we are realizing that this dialectic is a chance for us to find a synthesis and develop a profound dialogue. In the multicultural situation in which we all find ourselves, it is clear that a European culture that were only rationalist would not have a transcendent religious dimension; it would be unable to enter into dialogue with the great cultures of mankind, for all of them have this transcendent religious dimension, which is an inalienable dimension of the human being. And, therefore, to think that there is a pure, an anti-historical reason, existing only in itself, and that this alone is the one and only reason, is an error; we are increasingly discovering that it touches only a part of man; it expresses a certain historical situation; it is not reason as such. Reason as such is open to transcendence, and only in the meeting between the transcendent reality and faith and reason can man find himself. I therefore think that precisely the task and mission of Europe in this situation is to foster this dialogue, integrate faith and modern rationality in a single vision of man, which completes the human being and in this way also makes human cultures communicable”. “The presence of secularism is something normal, but the separation, the opposition between secularism and culture of faith is anomalous and must be overcome. The great challenge of our time is how to enable the two to meet each other and thus find their true identity. This, as I said, is a mission of Europe; it is the human necessity in this history of ours”.”The present economic crisis too, with its moral component, which no one can fail to see”, is “a case of the application, of the concrete expression of what I said before, namely that the two separate cultural currents must meet together, otherwise we won’t find the road to the future”. “The whole tradition of the social doctrine of the Church is aimed at widening this ethical and religious aspect and at extending it beyond the individual to responsibility for the world, to a rationality ‘performed’ by ethics. On the other hand, recent events on the market, over these last two to three years, have shown that the ethical dimension is internal and must enter into the very heart of economic transactions, because man is one. Only thus can the problem be solved. Only thus can Europe fulfil her mission”.

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